Bosses, Get the Heck Out of Our Way

Bottlenecks, distractions, and hinderances abound. Are you one of them? Be honest, now. Are you driving employee engagement? Or are you driving it over the cliff?

To paraphrase that old saw about suckers playing poker, let me say this to managers & leaders everywhere: “Take a good look around the conference room. In the first half-hour, if you can’t identify the choke point, you ARE the choke point.”

Lest my current boss (and long-time mentor) worry that I’m secretly taking a shot at him, let me be clear, it’s quite the opposite – all those years ago, one of the first things he beat into my feeble little junior-management brain was the importance of removing as much bureaucracy, needless papery, and administrative friction as possible from the flow of work in the business.

And while no person or organization is perfect, or can achieve a totally hinderance-free state, it is still an ideal worth aiming at and trying to achieve. As leaders, bureaucracy and choke-point removal is one of our chief and highest duties.

“Well, DUH,” you might say. “Obviously. What a stupid topic for a blog post. Carge must be hitting the bottle again.”

Okay. Maybe so, but before you click away from the post, let me ask you a few questions, to see how well you’re doing on the employee engagement vs. employee frustration issue:

  • How many emails do you send your direct reports in a day? A week? And you – how many do you GET?
  • What percentage of time do your employees spend on reporting & administrative tasks? And you?
  • Can any of your firm’s businesses processes fit on one page without requiring a magnifying glass to read?
  • And here’s the biggie: What percentage of your firm’s employees are storing proprietary work product in Dropbox? Google Docs? On unencrypted thumb drives? Do you even know?

I’ve hit a nerve, haven’t I?

“Sure,” you’re saying, “reporting and administrative tasks aren’t sexy or fun, but they’re a necessary evil. People need to just suck it up and do it.” And you’re shuffling your feet, looking down and mumbling, “And, you know, IT is in charge of the systems, I can’t just wave a magic wand…” Don’t kid a kidder – I know what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Secretly you harbor fantasies of running into the server room with a fire-axe and a big, powerful magnet – you want to tear those suckers down and build something that works just as much as the next guy.

Time to face the ugly reality, gang: employee frustration is putting your firm’s future at serious risk.

Here’s why employee engagement is down, frustration is up, and we all should be running scared:

First, there’s the “speedup”. Over the past few years companies have shed staff in droves. Attrition has hit everyone pretty hard. Workers have been asked to do more with less – a lot more, with a lot less. Productivity has increased, but hiring remains flat. Burnout is endemic. Take a look at your company. How’s morale? Dismal? Join the club.

So, the pressure’s on employees to produce, produce, produce, and they’re already pretty unhappy because of the big poop sandwich we’ve all had to eat, thanks to the economic downturn. Then BING! The dreaded sound signifies that there’s new email in the inbox. How much email? Too much email. Email overload is keeping your employees from producing. Being under tremendous pressure to produce + being hindered from producing = employee rage.

Third, your key talent is getting ready to bail on you. Generation X has had enough: 37% of them have one foot out the door. There goes your bench strength! And, Gen X aren’t the only ones mad as hell and not going to take it anymore: it’s everyone. Why? Because they’re pretty much convinced their managers don’t care about them.

Fourth and finally, the coming rise of “bring your own device” and the all-of-a-sudden ubiquitous “consumerization of IT” are clarion calls: the old ways are dying. Your employees want to use their own devices and they want to access data their own way. Why? Why aren’t they happy with their company-issue desktops and laptops from Dell & HP? Why aren’t they happy with their corporate information ecosystems? Why the big push for their own, personally-chosen devices and the use of easy, intuitive, always-accessible consumer cloud applications? I suspect you already know the answer to those questions. Hint: it’s not because iPads are shiny.

Your employees are frustrated, they’re burned out, they’re upset at the way they are being treated, and want to be enabled, not controlled.

We exist to serve our customers – and as I’ve said before, the end-to-end customer experience will be the defining life-or-death characteristic of our business. It is incumbent upon us as leaders to remove hinderances, frustrations and complications from our employees’ work lives, make them feel respected and valued.

It is incumbent upon us to to enable – not control – our employees, to engage them and retain them. You know why this is important. I don’t have to tell you. It’s obvious. Employee engagement will drive truly exceptional customer experiences.

Bosses, get the heck out of their way – build employee engagement or perish:

  • Show you care about your employees – communicate with them, coach them, groom them for growth
  • Embrace BYOD and build secure ecosystems that are enabling, not controlling
  • Build communication systems & reporting structures that don’t overload your people
  • Seriously: HIRE SOME PEOPLE. HAND OUT SOME RAISES. Find a way, before your burnouts find the door
  • Share your objectives and set clear goals – then let them do their jobs

Let’s go back to the beginning of the post. I referenced an old poker truism. I paraphrased it. Let me be bold, and take the metaphor one step further:

If you’re not removing barriers, friction and frustration and actively enabling your employees, then you really ARE the sucker.

Seth Cargiuolo

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